This is about my experience publishing and marketing my first – and so far, only – book, A Journey of Days. It won’t be your experience, but it may help.
First question: why didn’t I self –publish? It’s easy and there are a lot of people and companies out there to help you. I looked at this option and even explored it a bit. Lots of back-room operations out there. Seriously caveat emptor. I believed that I needed an editor – not because my material needed editing (I thought, naively), but because without an editor it’s hard to get a book retailer to take you seriously. When I look back, with the realization of what my book actually looks and feels like, never mind the content, I am convinced that I made the right decision to find a professional publishing house.
To attract a publisher, you need to keep in mind the advertising mantra: “Don’t tell me about your fertilizer, tell me about my garden”. So you need to tell the publisher why it’s a good idea for them to take you on. I used a two-page letter, a teaser, which included a couple of short detail scenes from the book. I also wrote that I was going to get the book published and that I hoped it would be with them. That got me an email from Tim Gordon, publisher of General Store Publishing House in Renfrew, ON, asking me to call him. First try! That probably is not typical, either.
As a first-time author, do not expect to be picked up by a major name, or get an advance against the royalties. Life isn’t like that. What I got was an offer to have one of their editors read my manuscript, for a fee, then she would give me a commentary on the manuscript, with a copy of the commentary to the publisher. Based on the editor’s opinion, the publisher would go ahead … or not. After about a month of agonized waiting, I heard that the editor was positive and the publisher was interested. He offered me a co-publishing contract. Each of us would pay half of the fixed price one-time costs for getting the book edited, published, printed and marketed. There was also a small royalty arrangement. As a first-time author, I thought that this was fair and I contracted with the publisher. Almost four years later I still think that it’s fair.
I sent electronic copy of the manuscript to the editor, then worked with her over several months making the material copy-ready. I thought it was at least 95% ready, they thought about 75%. They were right. The editing process included a proof reader, who I thought would catch any typos and such. Turned out the proof reader was more interested in trying to – incorrectly – correct Spanish place names and missed a couple of glaring errors. (These were fixed in the second printing). Once the copy was ready and all the photos had been uploaded and captioned, a final proof was made and I got to review it before publishing. The book was in my hands by mid-June 2008, less than a year after I had returned home from my trip.
I was … and am … very happy with the cover design, the layout, the very high quality paper and overall “feel” of the book. One of the advantages of this process was that I had an eBook version ready to go. (It is available on Kindle and Kobo.) The publisher was not interested in the eBook, so I did that on my own. Same with the audio book version.
The book was launched in Oslo, Norway at the end of June 2008 and in October 2008 in Ottawa. Then the work started. With a small publisher, there is no dedicated marketing salesman, so the aspiring author does his or her own marketing. If you happen to luck into a larger publisher, their dedicated salesperson will have about a hundred books to market and about 15 minutes with each retailer’s buyer, so your new book doesn’t even make the cut. If you don’t market personally, your book won’t sell. It is as simple as that.
I prepared a Powerpoint presentation about the contents of the book which I have delivered over 80 times in the past three years. I also placed books on consignment any place that would take them – but you have to keep close track on where they are. Just write the material. Don’t worry about editing it or cleaning it up or getting it “nice”. That’s the editor’s job. Just get down on paper what is in your head. Tell your story.